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The Talk

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It took two weeks after the worst week of Nile’s apparently-immortal life seriously what the fuck for her to get her phone back from Copley. Well, it wasn’t really her phone – although Andy had given her own phone back to her, Copley had confiscated it as part of the whole “fake Nile Freeman’s death” plan. Happily, unlike what would have been the case had she actually died, he’d let her go in and delete a few photos and items from her browsing history before the phone was gathered up with her belongings that Copley had somehow acquired from her old camp and shipped off to her grieving mother.

He let her keep her small cross on its gold chain. Thank God.

The phone she was given in exchange was a clone of her old iPhone – but super secure, unhackable, encrypted twelve ways from Sunday, rotating eSIMS, somehow an iPhone 13 when the 12 hadn’t even hit the shops yet, and with all her own photos, apps and data intact – bar the contacts, which Copley had deleted, since a butt dial would have been disastrous.

(Copley had also backed up all her photos and data, given her two USB drives, a portable harddrive, passwords to three different cloud storage sites, and keys to an anonymous secure deposit box in a discrete bank where another set of the data was being kept, all stored in several different file types, and photos and documents on microfiche because that was more long-lived that electronic files. Who knew?)

Nile had accepted it with an open relief that seemed to bemuse the others – even Copley, who was as much a native of this century as she was – but whatever. Nile was a Millenial, and happy to admit that she was in a co-dependent relationship with her phone. She sat down on the couch in their temporary (but very nice) London safehouse and switched the phone on – then quickly turned off the volume when it started buzzing and dinging and bleeping with backed-up alerts.

Nile was systematically swiping through and dismissing them when two caught her eye and made her stomach swoop and mouth dry in sudden anxiety. Clue: Period – Your next cycle is about to begin. Clue: Period Late – Your next cycle seems to be late. There was absolutely no reason whatsoever for Nile to actually worry, but logic had never really played a part when that little voice at the back of her head piped up to say Hey, period’s late, you know what that means! It had been true even when Nile was a virgin and there was literally absolutely no way she could have been pregnant, and it was true now when she hadn’t even hooked up with a guy since deploying, months ago. And yet. And yet. Shit.

Nile stuck her phone in her pocket and poked through the safehouse (firmly closed door to Nicky and Joe’s room; no one in the kitchen; no one in the home gym) until she found Andy, eyes closed, basking in the sun on a deckchair in the private, enclosed courtyard at the centre of the house. It was a space filled with lush green plants and a small burbling stream, and Andy had taken to ‘recovering’ there with a box of chocolate truffles and refreshing, cool drinks close to hand – which Nile would have taken at face value as something a newly mortal Andy needed to recover, except she had also seen Andy pushing herself too hard in the gym and pressing at the limits of the stitches in her bullet wound.

“Heeeyyy, Andy,” Nile said as she walked into the courtyard.

“Nile,” Andy said, eyes still closed. “You need something?”

“Just, ah. Just wondering if I could maybe get a few more of those answers you promised me about how this whole immortality thing works. If you have a moment?”

“What’s left to know? You’ve got the whole ‘not dying’ thing down. If you want a debate about where it comes from and why, you’re better off talking to Nicky. He’s more on your wavelength. About, y’know, supernatural stuff.”

Nile rolled her eyes, even if Andy wasn’t looking. “Come on, practical things.”

“Oh. I remember when Book was new, he was the same. You want to know what happens if a body part is cut off?”

“No, I- Ew. What does happen?”

“Easiest to reattach it, if it’s still there. Just hold it in place – if you still have hands, ha! – until it heals back together. Otherwise, it’ll re-grow. Eventually.”

Nile had a sudden flashback to that scene in the Deadpool movie where his legs grew back. She’d just about wet herself laughing at the time; it abruptly seemed less funny now.

“You can experiment, if you want. Messy, but easier now that in the middle of a fight. Little finger’s simplest, just cut through the joint. Make sure you clean off the knives if you use the kitchen ones, though, Joe’ll have your guts if you leave them bloody.”

Nile looked at her hands and shuddered. “I’ll save that for a rainy day. No, I wanted to know – do we still get periods?”

Andy’s eyes slid open and she looked at Nile properly. “Huh. I hadn’t thought about that in…a long time.”

“So, no, then?”

Andy shrugged. “No. Nicky would tell you that whatever…graced us with ongoing life took in exchange the ability to generate it. I don’t know, it seemed sensible enough that a warrior shouldn’t be distracted with bleeding or babies.”

Nile felt cold. She’d felt momentary relief at the prospect that she had one less thing to deal with, but hadn’t really followed the thought to its logical conclusion. “We can’t have children.”

Andy sighed. “No. Thankfully. Can you imagine the complications? Watching your children get old and die – look what that did to Booker. Or being distracted looking after a family, however many generations that runs to. Let alone being pregnant and the way we are.”

“Why-?”

Andy closed her eyes again. “We’re immortal. But whatever this is, it’s not genetic, and it doesn’t…kick in when you’re a baby. So, what do you think happens if you’re pregnant, and you die and rejuvenate, but the foetus doesn’t?”

Nile felt a little green. “Shiiiit,” she breathed, and reached forward to steal Andy’s drink. Just when she thought she’d wrapped her head around one aspect of immortality, something new and super fun came up to surprise her. “Did you, um. Did you ever want children?”

Andy was quiet for a moment. “Sometimes. Back before I died for the first time, I think I remember I was expecting it was something I’d do. That was one good thing about our society, women could be warriors, but motherhood was just as important. Since then…mostly not. I try not to think about it.” She paused, considered, and reached out to steal her drink back from Nile. “Of course, there’s been times now and then, over the centuries, when I’ve felt…how do you put it now? Clucky. It always passes, just a phase.” She caught Nile’s eye and raised an eyebrow, then her voice. “Of course, for the last thousand years or so, I’ve sometimes felt like I’ve had a couple of children underfoot.”

There was a scuffle in the doorway and Nicky stumbled forward, turning to glare fondly at Joe, who’d pushed him out first. “Sorry, Boss, I was just coming to offer you a refill-“ He waved an ice-filled pitcher in explanation.

“Very polite boys you have, Mrs Scythia,” Nile murmured, sotto voce, and was rewarded with a momentary grin from Andy.

“-but then it seemed like maybe the conversation was private? So we were just-“

“Shamelessly eavesdropping,” interrupted Joe, dropping onto the chair on the other side of Andy. “Sorry Nile, you will learn we are very much in each other’s pockets here. “

Andy sighed. “It’s true, I’m afraid. Feel free to spy on them sometime to make up for it.”

Nicky flicked Andy’s ear in remonstration as he went past her, but still paused to fill her glass. “Do not do that. Spying is rude. Unless it is surveillance and for a mission, of course. But you should feel comfortable to ask us anything you wish,” he said earnestly. “Please. We all know this is a very big change, a big challenge for you, and we want to help however we can.”

“Nile was curious about some of the more practical aspects of immortal biology,” Andy said.

“Did you have your appendix out as a child and want to see if it grew back? Because I understand that’s something they do now, taking out appendixes, and I’ve been curious. Or did you want to cut off-?” asked Joe, brightly.

“No! Nope. No, thank you,” said Nile quickly. “I was just curious about…reproduction.”

“Oh!” said Nicky. “We did an experiment once.”

Nile felt her eyes widen. “I don’t think I want to hear this.”

Joe waved away her objection. “It was very proper science. Remember, my people were scientists when Europe were still figuring out basic maths.”

“Save the lecture on zero,” grumbled Andy.

Joe ignored her. “This was when microscopes were invented. Very smart tools. We managed to obtain one-“

“It was between missions, we got bored,” Nicky shrugged.

“-and we had some biology reference books so we decided to see if we still had. Ah. Generative capability.”

Nile parsed that. “You…did a sperm count?”

“Yes! Both of us. For science. And it was very easy to count because of the concept of zero.”

Andy snorted. “For science. That was a new excuse.”

“Anyway, the point of this is, none of us, since gaining immortality, have the ability to generate or carry new life,” said Nicky. “It’s the balance, I think. In all other ways, our bodies, our hormones, seem to follow normal biology. Our hair grows, our nails grow.” He rubbed his jaw. “Our beards grow.”

“But thankfully beard-burn does not last,” said Joe happily.

“We drink, we get drunk; we eat, we shit,” Andy said. “We get ill-advised tattoos, we live with that decision. For a certain value of ‘live’, I suppose.”

Nicky rolled his eyes. “It was a very tasteful tattoo.”

Nile opened her mouth to ask – she’d seen Nicky shirtless and hadn’t noticed anything, which left a restricted number of possibilities – but Andy took pity on her. “Don’t bother, it’s faded completely now. Tattoos do that naturally, you just wouldn’t see the effects in a normal human lifetime.” She held out her own arms and considered them. “You’d never know it, they’re long gone, but I used to have a lovely set. Traditional Scythian tattoos, done with a bone needle and hammer and ash. Both arms and my back.” She sighed. “Those tattoo guns they have these days seem like a cheat.”

Nile felt like taking notes. “Okay. So we heal from wounds but our skin still accepts tattoo ink?”

“Just heals faster after. No itching.”

“Piercings?”

Andy ran a hand over her ears. “No problem. Not sure how the holes don’t reject the jewellery and close over, but.”

“It’s almost as if,” said Nicky serenely, “the factors that heal us are a gift, bestowed by something that can differentiate between a wound and the choice of minor body modification.”

Andy rolled her eyes. “I gave up trying to understand the rules after a few thousand years. We heal, we don’t. We can sicken and die of some illnesses, but others are cured as soon as we are infected. We can die of dehydration, but come back to life with enough strength to get a little closer to the nearest spring before we die again. We can be short in the head, but our brains heal with memories intact. As long as we can keep fighting…” She shrugged.

Nile thought about it. “What about hair?” she asked.

“I told you, our hair grows normally-“ said Nicky.

“No, I mean. Hair’s dead, right? Once grows? So how come, if we get a head wound, something major, like…brains and skull and everything injured, the skin heals with the same amount of hair.”

Nicky reached up to touch the back of his head. “Huh,” he said. “I have to admit, I took that for granted.”

Joe glared at her, but Nile knew him well enough now to see that he was joking, not truly bristling at her. “If you have spoken it into being and next time my Nicky is shot in the head – Allah forbid – he ends up with a bald spot, then you and I will have words.”

Nile smiled at the teasing. It reminded her of the camaraderie of her unit, and she liked feeling like they could tease her, that they weren’t treating her as fragile and new. “Look, I only came here to see if I needed to get out to the pharmacy to buy another cup and that question has been more than answered, so…“

They all frowned at her in identical puzzlement. “Why do you need a cup?” Nicky asked. “We have plenty here. Mugs and glasses.”

Nile looked at the three puzzled expressions facing her, and exhaled. “Oh, boy. Not the talk I thought I was going to have today. Guess none of you had any reason to keep up-to-date with period product options, huh?” They all shook their heads. “Actually, Andy, if you’re mortal now, does that mean…”

Andy’s expression froze. “Well. Fuck.”

Nicky stood, pulling Joe with him. “Perhaps we should leave the ladies to it.”

“Call me lady one more time…” growled Andy, but it was half-hearted. She still looked faintly dismayed.

“I want to stay!” protested Joe as he followed Nicky out. “I can be an enlightened, supportive man! I want to hear about…” his voice cut off as Nicky closed the door.

“There’s…cups now?” asked Andy. Nile sighed and pulled out her phone to find a local website she could place an order on. She paused at the screen still filled with notifications and alerts, then with a decisive swipe dismissed them all.